At my school, a public institution nestled in southwestern Virginia, I captain a team of around twenty debaters. We’re under-funded, under-supported, and located hours from a debate epicenter; we are the kind of team that disclosure is claimed to be helping, and yet nothing terrifies me more.
It’s almost impossible to explain to somebody that comes from a supported program what it’s like to debate in an unconducive environment. Metaphorically, it feels as if I come into rounds out of breath, throat sore and struggling to speak. In reality, it’s being pulled out of third period to go over tournament details that a coach we don’t have should’ve sorted out; it’s driving hours to spend my entire weekend in Charlottesville to receive case review that most debaters could obtain over lunch; it’s writing donor email after donor email to reach even a fraction of the funding of most successful programs.
For a while, I wondered why the individuals that advocated for a lack of administrative support still came from private schools or debate epicenters. After lectures and tournaments where teams were complaining to me about only getting green-lit for ten tourneys or not being able to fly across the country to bids, I initially concluded that a lack of support did not mean the same thing to everybody else that it did to me. I thought that the misrepresentation of the needs of small programs came from a lack of exposure to said programs, but I have recently come to the realization that the issue at hand is much more complex; under-populated programs are intentionally being used by developed teams to secure progressive argumentation that only benefits themselves.
Debaters from small programs are typically unable to reach the same exposure to argumentation going into a round as established teams with the ability to attend prior tournaments on the topic. Whereas large-scale teams are able to spend the weeks before a tournament getting hands-on experience honing arguments in a structured, competitive environment, teams without the resources to travel frequently tend to focus on written prep before a tourney. Because we lack the gift of attending multiple tournaments on a topic, small schools rely on having prepped better to succeed in a round. When schools force disclosure, when they mandate that debaters turn over the case they spent ages perfecting, they are taking away the one advantage a small-program debater has. Because developed schools have decided that it is more advantageous for them to sacrifice time previously dedicated to prepping for hands-on tournament experience, they are trying to reduce the importance of prepping all together. By advocating for disclosure, schools are taking the most accessible aspect of debate and nullifying it.
Teams like mine do not have the resources to send dropped debaters to elim rounds to flow cases, and we certainly do not have the resources to organize prep-outs. When disclosure is in play, it is large-scale programs with the ability to have multiple teams focusing on crafting a response to one case that triumph over schools that lack the number of debaters necessary to efficiently stage a prep-out during the time window before a round.
Disclosure and disclosure theory are separate practices, but together they work as a double-edged sword to ensure that teams that refuse to surrender the prep-based advantage they have are punished for it. Disclosure theory is typically run with the promise of creating a more equal debate space, but theory in itself is not accessible to small teams. Disclosure theory, which rests on the claim of helping under-resourced debaters, predominantly wins against teams that do not have access to the formal training necessary to respond to progressive argumentation. Schools are picking up rounds against the very teams they are exploiting by convincing a judge that they are more qualified to speak for them.
I don’t blame debaters that run disclosure theory for the barriers of entry within the debate community, and I don’t believe that large-scale programs are an inherently negative aspect of the activity, but I am asking that debaters listen to the individuals they’re advocating for. The motives behind disclosure theory are clarified by the fact that it is not endorsed by the small schools it wins off of supposedly helping. Disclosure and other cases pertaining to the treatment of small-program debaters should only be run by small-program debaters. The equality described in disclosure theory is, in reality, only the implementation of systematically unfair terms promoted by developed programs and for developed programs.